Israel Air Force experimental model of the F-35I stealth bomber at the Tel Nof Air Base. (IDF/Amit Agronov) (IDF/Amit Agronov)
F-35I stealth bomber

New F-35I model was specially made for the IAF with Israeli modifications to enhance performance, with the Americans likely to copy the changes.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The Israel Air Force unveiled Wednesday its new test version of the American-made F-35 stealth bomber, saying that the U.S. is likely to copy the aircraft’s advanced experimenting capabilities that Israelihas developed to help its pilots push the limits of the plane in combat.

The plane is the first test version of the F-35 to be sent outside of the United States and was shown to reporters at the IAF’s Flight Testing Center (FTC) at the Tel-Nof air base about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Tel Aviv, the IAF said in statement on its website.

While the Americans refer to the F-35 as the “Lightning,” the Israeli F-35I version is call the “Adir” – the Hebrew word meaning “mighty.” To date Israel has received 26 of the jets out of the 50 it ordered, with expectations to expand its fleet to 75 in total.

The Israelis wanted their own custom-made test version of the F-35 to experiment with, as the test aircraft in the U.S. are not operational fighters and have “limited operational ability” or were designed to examine specific systems. The IAF said the new test model has both advanced aeromechanical testing and full operational capabilities.

“We could, if necessary, convert the model to an operational one,” said Lt. Col. Y, Commander of the FTC Squadron, adding that now that the Americans saw what can be done to expand testing, “they will likely produce additional aircraft based on the current model for themselves.”

Israel took delivery of its first F-35s in December, 2016, and the first squadron of the stealth bombers was activated a year later.

The fifth-generation fighter jet is manufactured by Lockheed Martin and is considered one of the world’s most advanced and most expensive fighter aircraft at close to $200 million each. The aircraft is made in a way that it does not appear on enemy radar.

Israel is known for making mechanical changes to its planes as well as replacing much of the avionics – the electronic instruments used by the plane – with homegrown versions that allow the American-made fighters, including the F-15 and F-16, to perform better.

“With the new addition of the Adir to the lines of experimental aircraft in the Israeli Air Force’s FTC Squadron, we are witnessing a historic event, the magnitude of which cannot be underestimated,” said Tel Nof base commander Brig. Gen. Oded Cohen, who added that the team of technicians and engineers who work with the F-35 know “how to challenge the limits of the Adir’s capabilities.”

Israel shares its technological advances with the U.S. Air Force. The two countries signed a strategic agreement in 2015 that formalized the joint cooperation.

Of the eight allied countries currently using the F-35, Israel has the most combat experience. Last year, Israeli pilots briefed their American and British counterparts on methods, operational patterns and knowledge associated with the aircraft.